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Coping With an Arthritis Flare

Tips for managing episodes of increased pain and other symptoms.

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Rheumatoid arthritis (RA), psoriatic arthritis, and lupus are chronic diseases and with treatment your symptoms can be kept at bay. But you may still have acute episodes of pain and inflammation known as flares. An arthritis flare may occur after an infection or a highly stressful situation. Often, however, what triggers a flare is not clear. By working with your doctor, you can manage the pain and fatigue of a flare and keep them to a minimum.

Medication Adjustments

Discuss a plan of action with your doctor. One approach would be to adjust your medications temporarily while the disease is unusually active. This can help relieve pain and minimize or prevent damage that can occur from unchecked inflammation. Repeated flares could indicate you need a more aggressive treatment approach.

Many doctors will suggest a plan of action at the first signs of a flare so it doesn't get out of control quickly. Be aware that changing your medication may not control the symptoms of flare right away, so here are some self-help techniques you can also use.

Self-Care for Flares

Along with following your doctor’s recommendations, there are many self-care steps you can incorporate into your plan.

  • Balance periods of activity with periods of rest. Although more rest can help during an arthritis flare, you probably don't need to abandon your regular activities or exercise program. But you may need to modify your usual program. Even though you may feel like spending long periods in bed, it may not be best. Instead, combine periods of rest with some light activity. Try to keep joints from becoming stiff by moving them through the fullest range of motion possible. You can do something as simple as slowly raising and lowering your legs while seated comfortably. Just make sure to pace yourself and don't overdo it. If this action is causing you more pain, stop immediately.
  • Have a plan to deal with your obligations. Have a contingency plan for work and family obligations. At work, try to arrange for days off, change your daily work schedule, work fewer hours per week or work from home. Make a plan with supervisors and co-workers ahead of time so you can transition smoothly when a flare occurs. At home, let family members know which responsibilities will be shifted to them in order to keep things running smoothly.
  • Communicate with your family and friends. It's important to let family and friends know how a flare may affect you and ways they can help before one occurs. Other sources of help can include your church or a local patient advocacy or volunteer organization.
  • Apply a hot or cold pack to inflamed joints. Heat can soothe joint pain by increasing blood flow to the painful area and relaxing the muscles. Use heating pads, warm compresses, heat patches or warm baths; apply two or three times a day for 15 minutes at a time. Cold eases inflammation by constricting the blood vessels. It lessens pain because cold sensations travel along large nerve fibers and helps to disrupt pain sensations. Apply cold packs – bags of frozen vegetables work well – two to four times a day for 15 minutes at a time. Be careful not to overdo either treatment..
  • Practice relaxation or mind-diversion techniques. These techniques work best when you do them on a regular basis. Even though relaxation may not directly reduce your pain, it can minimize stress, which will indirectly relieve your pain.

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